Students in developing countries and refugees fleeing violence need reliable proof of their identity — and the blockchain might just work

Credit: Sumy Sadurni/Getty Images

Akile Wua Justice chuckles with pride as he talks about graduating from his three-year degree at Uganda’s Cavendish University last year. Competition for graduate work is intense, but qualified engineers can face an unexpected problem — battling bureaucracy, fees, and fraud to prove they really are qualified.

The telecommunications and engineering graduate says that students are given one official certificate and one paper copy, and then have to have these certificates validated with signatures and stamps from various officials. The process can cost as much as $300 and take six months. “When you graduate you’re given a certificate, but if…

The NIH is building a massive dataset that aims to get a broad range of patients, but there are questions about who will benefit from the medical advances that result

Credit: davewhitney/Getty Images

Miriam Gonzalez initially saw the posters around the hospital where she worked. They depicted a diverse range of people that actually represented the American population — not something she usually saw in medical ads.

They were promoting a new initiative by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) called the All of Us program, asking one million individuals to volunteer their medical data, including electronic records and genetic material such as blood and urine, to create an extensive database for research.

“The emphasis was on ‘be the change,’” recalled Gonzalez, one of the early volunteers and now an ambassador for the…

Vast banks of medical data are slowly being digitized, allowing A.I. to address the growing demand for pathologists

Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

If you became concerned about a mole on your back — perhaps it had become painful or looked unsightly — your doctor might decide to remove it and have it evaluated. She’d send it to a pathology lab, where a sample of the tissue would be prepared in the form of a slide. It would then be sent to a pathologist, who would examine the slide to determine whether the tissue had any problematic elements, like cancer. After taking a look, the pathologist might ship it to a specialist at another lab for a second opinion. Each time the slide…

The New New

As marijuana becomes legal across the U.S., small growers will need to innovate to survive

Illustration: Daniel Barreto

Where there’s profit to be made, there’s corporate greed. And the weed industry, which is inching toward legalization throughout the United States, is no exception.

The market for legal weed is projected to hit $31.4 billion by 2021, according to a recent report from the Brightfield Group, a research firm focused on cannabis. Naturally, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies are investing heavily in the industry.

Constellation Brands, best known as the parent company of Corona and holder of the third-highest market share of any beer supplier in the world, has invested nearly $4 billion in Canopy Growth Corp., an Ontario-based…

Clumsy decisions made by software are leading to calls for automation to be audited

Credit: simpson33/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Elizabeth Brico’s daughters were removed from her custody in April 2018, in part, she believes, because of an algorithm.

Brico was living with her in-laws in Florida while her husband grappled with mental health issues. While they didn’t always get along, a tense peace had held. But when arguments threatened to boil over, Brico took a short trip to Miami to let things cool down.

“I had my phone on me and remained in text/phone contact with my in-laws, but shortly before returning they called the child abuse hotline and reported that I had disappeared without contact to use drugs,”…

In the age of information manipulation, a new voice editing technology could present mounting security challenges

When Adobe Photoshop first debuted, it looked like magic. The ability to seamlessly alter photos gave graphic designers a life-changing tool, but it wasn’t long before users started to use the product for more nefarious purposes. As recently as last year, for example, a photo of NFL player Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks appearing to be holding a burning flag in the team’s locker room went viral, even though it had merely been Photoshopped.

By now, Photoshop (and “Photoshopping,” it’s adapted verb version) has become shorthand for speaking about any manipulated photo. The way the term has woven itself…

How Face ID affects the Fifth Amendment and opens the door for law enforcement to have easier access to your phone

Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty Images

By now, you’re likely familiar with the iPhone X’s ability to use facial recognition technology to unlock your phone with “just a look.” You’ve also probably seen the commercials where “animojis” (Apple’s animated emojis) jam out to Big Boi’s “All Night,” perfectly matching their owners’ facial expressions. It’s all fun and games, and just one more development from Apple, perhaps in an attempt to reverse the direction of plateauing iPhone sales over the past few years.

As we continue to develop smartphones that requires less and less effort from us to bypass security measures, we are opening ourselves up to…

How Amazon and Google’s big bets on the smart speaker market affect their customers’ privacy

Google Home units on display during CES 2018. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Speech recognition technology and the voice user interfaces (VUIs) we use to engage with it have gotten so good that they now make errors only about 5.5 percent of the time. That’s about the same error rate as a human.

And this speech recognition technology has advanced rapidly — particularly in the past 10 to 15 years —and is becoming commonplace in the bedroom, kitchen, and the rest of your house. It is light-years beyond its first iterations in the 1990s, when one of the earliest commercial products was Dragon Dictate, a typing software released in 1990 that was error…

How airports and DHS are using facial recognition on travelers

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A crucial step has been added to international travel. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, you might need more than just your documents in these 10 airports: Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Logan in Boston, O’Hare in Chicago, Hobby and George Bush in Houston, McCarran in Las Vegas, Miami International, John F. Kennedy in New York, and Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. As part of Trump’s executive order banning certain Muslims from entering the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—specifically U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—has ramped up and expanded its Biometric Exit program, which gathers biometric data from…

The Army Research Laboratory’s plan to use human brains to train machines

The human brain is responsible for making us adaptable and widespread — a singularly adept instrument to help humans survive and thrive. Even as artificial intelligence quickly progresses, when it comes to military conflicts, people still outpace robots in crucial split-second decision-making. Slowly but surely, though, the gap is lessening, and training robots’ targeting capabilities using human brain responses may help close it.

When humans make decisions or respond to specific stimuli, our brains emit what’s known as a P300 response. We can measure that response, and the evaluation of those responses is used primarily with medical patients who have…

Benjamin Powers

Benjamin’s writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, New Republic, and Pacific Standard, among others. You can find all of his work at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store